One of the more popular Palmeiras supporter chants contains the phrase “The Libertadores Cup: obsession! Gotta play with the soul and the heart!”. Considering Palmeiras have not been in a Libertadores final since anno 2000, there’s a lot of soul and heart on the line on Saturday 30 January, when Palmeiras and Santos clash at the Maracanã for hegemony over the Americas.
Palmeiras’ path to Eternal Glory has been particular this season: in the 11 first appearances, Palmeiras were not only undefeated, but actually never ever behind on the scorecard. The trajectory started with victories over Tigre-ARG (2-0 away), Guaraní-PAR (3-1 at home) and Bolívar-BOL (2-1 away). In the following matches of the qualifying round, Palmeiras drew 0-0 away with Guaraní-PAR before thrashing Bolívar-BOL and Tigre-ARG, both at home and both by a 5-0 score.
In the round of 16, the Big Green advanced to the quarterfinals after beating Delfín-EQU 3-1 away and 5-0 at home (among all Palmeiras’ Libertadores games this season, 5-0 is actually the most common score). The quarterfinals against Libertad-PAR saw a 1-1 draw away and a 3-0 win at the Allianz Parque.
In the semifinals against River Plate-ARG, the 3-0 away victory was massively important, as Palmeiras suffered a 2-0 defeat at home in the second leg, advancing to the final on a 3-2 aggregate. The Big Green became the first Brazilian team to beat Gallardo’s side over two legs in a CONMEBOL tournament: with Gallardo at the helm, River had won all previous six knockout clashes against Brazilian opposition.
32 is the number of goals scored by Palmeiras so far in this edition of the Libertadores, and it ties with the team’s best mark, from 2000. However, in 2000, Palmeiras played a total of 14 games, compared to the 12 played so far in this edition, making the 2020-2021 campaign stand out due to the higher average. This while opponents have only penetrated Palmeiras’ defences on 6 occasions.
This will be the fourth time the Libertadores final sports two teams from the same country, and the third time this happens with Brazilian clubs. Santos and Palmeiras are in their fifth Libertadores final: Santos have won it three times, Palmeiras one time, in 1999. The curiosities don’t stop there: Palmeiras and Santos eliminated teams from the same country in the octaves (Ecuador) and in the semis (Argentina). Also, both teams have been under the command of four different coaches during this edition: Santos by Jesualdo, Cuca, Cuquinha and Marcelo Fernandes (they latter two replaced Cuca while he recovered from Covid), and Palmeiras by Luxemburgo, Andrey, Abel Ferreira and Vitor Castanheiro (the latter replaced Abel while recovering from Covid).
42-year-old Abel Ferreira threw himself into coaching barely into his 30s, after a serious injury prematurely ended his playing career. The ex-Sporting player is known for his big heart and tremendous winning instinct. “My mother always told me three magic words: discipline, hard work and talent” Ferreira lectured his players amid dressing-room celebrations following a Copa do Brasil victory. “In football, it is kill or be killed, we live in the jungle.” he told reporters in his first Palmeiras press conference.
Santos, nicknamed O Peixe (the fish) will attempt to become the first Brazilian club to win the Libertadores four times. Their previous titles came in 1962 and 1963 with Pele in their ranks, and in 2011 with Neymar. This year, attacking midfielder Yeferson Soteldo and forward Marinho are the highlights in a team displaying dynamism and speed.
In addition to continental bragging rights, the 2020 Libertadores Cup winner bags US$ 12 million, on top of the US$ 7 million in accumulated prize money from previous tournament stages. The runners-up get the accumulated US$ 7 million and an additional US$ 6 million. The winner, of course, also gets a ticket to Qatar to represent South America at the FIFA Club World Cup, to be played 2-11 February.
Yesterday, Tuesday the 27th, the Palmeiras delegation left São Paulo for Rio de Janeiro in style. Upon arrival at the hotel rooms, players found personalized pennants and framed family pictures. “The Dream is Now”, the message read..
The last 5 decisive games involving Palmeiras and Santos – Paulistão of 2013, Paulistão and Brazil Cup of 2015, Paulistão semifinals of 2016 and 2018 – have all gone to a penalty shootout. Please let’s break the spell.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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by Kristian Bengtson & Augusto Anteghini Oazi
*Here at Anything Palmeiras, we love football. We love Palmeiras. We are always keen to see Palmeiras play, and keen to write about it for you. But we’re against the return of football in a country that still hasn’t controlled the coronavirus pandemic. We express our deepest sympathy to the families whose loved ones have been taken by the disease.